I was born in a Prefab built on bomb rubble in one of the poorer areas of London, England, after the Second World War. What had once been a densely packed industrial/ residential area alongside the Grand Surry Canal was quickly leveled by the notorious V1 and V2 bombs during the Blitz. The V2 Rockets were the first ballistic missiles. They weighed 13 tons and traveled faster than the speed of sound giving people no warning of their imminent arrival. The street I was born on was leveled by a V1 bomb, a pilotless plane also known as a Doodlebug.
Our Prefab had arrived in a box, was deposited on the leveled rubble and built in 48 hours. These houses weren't built to last, but were built to warehouse all of those who had been dispossessed because of the devastation of war and its resulting acute housing shortage. The fact that in some instances war-damaged aircraft were melted down to produce these houses and that POWs assisted in their construction, helped to make the Prefab a symbol of Britain rising from the ashes of war.. Newly transferred by the BBC from Edinburgh to London to cover the 1948 Olympics, my father along with my mother saw first hand the devastation that the war had wreaked during the Blitz. That,coupled with having to adjust to a Cockney dialect made them feel as if they had stepped into a foreign land.
In time all housing eventually was removed and the area was turned into Burgess Park. It sits on 50 hectares in the poorest part of one of London’s most deprived boroughs with about 70,000 people living within 5km of the park. In 2009 a successful bid raised close to $3 million dollars to refurbish the park to become a family friendly place where densely packed urban dwellers could enjoy green space.
The ruins of Jardin Street, London, the site where I was born. The grounds were leveled and the Prefabs erected. This area is now Burgess Park
The early 1950's in Britain were particularly bleak with dilapidated, unpainted buildings and shabbily dressed people. Few cars were on the roads and people used bicycles or public transport. Many kinds of food, such as butter, bacon, meat, tea, and sugar, were still rationed and would remain so until 1954. We were all issued Identity cards, even the children. For many, the hangover from the war, rationing, unemployment, and the lack of opportunity opened the floodgate and like thousands before us my family became immigrants to Canada.
As a young adult I was drawn into the Canadian Post-War, Post-Depression myth that was prevalent in the 50's and 60's; a log cabin in the wilderness where life could be lived in independence without the interference of government or social constructs. While hitchhiking throughout British Columbia, looking for land to settle on in 1968, I met many people who had lived through the Depression. I sat in their kitchens and listened to their stories. They were stories of courage and determination. What struck me was the fierce independence of these people and their tenacity in times of struggle. It was a lesson that has remained with me.
photo by Arteshal
Burgess Park. I think the symbol of a butterfly is highly appropriate.